With only five weeks remaining in the 2011-2012 school year, I have begun reflecting on many aspects of the past nine months with my students. The other day I was thinking about the kids who have made large academic improvements and the factors that might best explain these gains.
Since September, a couple children stand out in terms of the magnitude of their academic progress. Both come from supportive families who value education, yet both kids started the year working below grade level in at least one subject area. Now they perform at grade level in all areas and often act as important class leaders.
Though there are probably many reasons that explain their impressive improvement, I believe one shines brighter than any other - these kids started performing better when they started expecting themselves to perform better.
In schools we talk all the time about setting high expectations, but whose expectations are they? Typically, it is the adults in a school who establish high expectations, and, of course, this is important. By themselves, though, high expectations set by adults will only take us so far. The real progress begins when students make these expectations their own - when they become personal expectations.
I have a sign hanging in my classroom that asks the question: â€œHow high are your personal standards?â€ I refer to it often in my attempt to create a classroom culture where children strive to be the best they can be, aim high, and never settle for less than their highest quality work.
The aforementioned students made the decision to set higher personal standards, and that started a virtuous cycle. They worked harder, produced better work, received positive feedback about their work, effort, and attitude, and their confidence and motivation grew. That led to even better effort, and the chain reaction progressed to a higher level.
There were also more subtle indicators of their progress. I could see their growth in how they carried themselves in class, the volume of their voices when they participated in group discussions, the frequency with which they participated, how they handled adversity, and how they paid attention to detail. Watching this transformation is one of the highlights of my job.
Next week I will share some steps that teachers can take to help students expect more from themselves.